‘X-factor’ Kolbe back to lift Springboks
Wing beats ankle injury after missing semi-final Erasmus confirms final will be farewell as coach
South Africa’s key winger Cheslin Kolbe has warned England that he is “100 per cent” over his ankle injury, after being named in the Springboks’ line-up for tomorrow’s Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama.
Head coach Rassie Erasmus said he was delighted to have a man with real “X-factor” back in his ranks.
Kolbe has been in scintillating form at this World Cup. Although he has only scored two tries, the former Sevens player turned Toulouse star has been an effervescent presence on the right flank, in particular giving New Zealand’s defenders a torrid time in their opening game.
Kolbe was the only change to South Africa’s team from their semi-final victory over Wales last weekend. The 26-year-old comes in for S’busiso Nkosi who drops out of the match-day 23.
“I have been training with the team for the last two weeks and I am really confident I am back to my old self,” Kolbe said. “My ankle has healed up really nicely and I am grateful to get another opportunity to wear the green-and-gold jersey and especially to play in the final.”
Kolbe said he felt his journey was part of a higher calling. “Every player is different but I am a firm believer in my faith,” he said. “I know God has different plans for different people and he has made sure I am ready. My faith is really strong. I am really confident. I will never go on the field when I am not 100 per cent because that is just being selfish.” Erasmus confirmed yesterday that he would step down as Springboks coach after the match in order to focus on his position as South Africa’s director rugby. His final press conference before the of game was understated, certainly in comparison to Eddie Jones’s bombastic rhetoric hours later.
Erasmus said that just because South Africa had reached a World Cup final they did not think they were “now suddenly a force back in world rugby”, adding that the country and the game in South Africa needed to capitalise on the opportunities this final would present.
“It is my last Test match of being head coach,” Erasmus said. “It’s an emotional one. I didn’t think 25 Tests would go that quickly. I will still be heavily involved whatever way we go in terms of the next Bok coach.
“Just being the coach gave me such hope again for South African rugby. Two years ago, everybody was talking about ‘hope’, but I was like, ‘Let’s just focus on the rugby’.
“I’ve changed my mind. If we play with passion and people see it, it can help them forget about their problems. We have to use this platform.”
Erasmus said the most important thing was to use the World Cup as a springboard: “We’ve reached a World Cup final, and we will try our utmost to win, and we think we are in with a good chance of giving England a real go.
“But the big challenge is to be consistent. It’s a nice springboard to take it forward, with the players and all the good coaches, the facilities and good structures, we should stay in the top three in world rugby. Or at least consistently compete for that.”
Francois Steyn, the only survivor from the Springboks’ victorious 2007 World Cup team, said he was not expecting to come on and hit 60-metre penalties as he used to, although he did not deny it might come down to a kick in the end.
“I don’t know,” he said of the prospect of coming on and kicking a crucial penalty. “When I was younger I didn’t worry about it. I don’t know if I hope it doesn’t happen, because I’m stressing a bit more these days. But Handre [Pollard] can kick the ball a mile, so I’m just there to support.”
Ready: Cheslin Kolbe has been on top form